Presidential candidate Mitt Romney moved to separate himself from Missouri Senate hopeful Todd Akin’s remark that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy, as Republicans stepped up pressure on Akin to withdraw from the race.
John Cornyn, chairman of the Republican Party’s Senate campaign committee, urged Akin to “carefully consider” whether he should remain a candidate in what could be a pivotal contest for control of the U.S. Senate. Cornyn also told Akin that he’s hurting Republican efforts to capture a majority and the national party won’t spend money to help elect him, according to an aide to the committee who asked not to be identified.
The comment about rape yesterday by Akin, 65, a Missouri congressman who is running to oust first-term Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, went viral on the Internet, sparking outrage from women’s groups and lawmakers in both parties. Akin retracted his remark, and President Barack Obama made a rare, impromptu appearance today at the daily White House reporters’ briefing and castigated the Republican Senate nominee.
Akin’s comments were “insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong,” Romney said in a phone interview this morning with National Review Online. “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”
Obama called the remarks “offensive” and “way out there.”
Cornyn said Akin’s assertion yesterday that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy was “wrong, offensive and indefensible.”
Under Missouri law, Akin would have until 5 p.m. tomorrow to have his name removed from the ballot without a court order. He would have until Sept. 25 with a court order. The state party committees could choose a candidate to fill a vacancy within 28 days and no later than the fourth Friday before the election.
“I recognize that this is a difficult time for him, but over the next 24 hours, Congressman Akin should carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party and the values that he cares about and has fought for throughout his career in public service,” Cornyn, of Texas, said in a statement.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who will give the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention next week in Tampa, Florida, said Akin “should be ashamed of himself” for remarks that were “asinine” and “ridiculous.” Christie, who has campaigned for Romney and other Republicans, said in Asbury Park today that he wouldn’t work for the Missourian, while stopping short of asking him to give up the race.
“That’s his call to make,” Christie said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus went further in a CNN interview tonight, saying “if it was me, I would step aside and let someone else run for that office.”
Akin, in an interview today with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, signaled he intended to stay in.
“This was a very, very serious error,” Akin said on the former presidential candidate’s radio show. Still, he said, “The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I’m not a quitter.” He said he had “not yet begun to fight.”
In an e-mailed appeal to supporters last night, Akin apologized for his remarks and asked backers to “chip in $3 as a sign of support of my continued candidacy.”
Akin’s comments about rape marked the latest episode in a campaign in which Democrats are criticizing Republicans as being hostile toward women. In the interview aired on the Fox affiliate in St. Louis, Akin said abortion shouldn’t be allowed in rape cases, in part because pregnancy was unlikely to result.
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” said Akin, who has served in the U.S. House since 2001. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Backing away from his comments in a statement later yesterday, he said: “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”
As Republicans deliberated their party’s platform today in Tampa, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell condemned Akin’s comments as “absolutely wrong,” saying “they appear to be based on bad science, bad facts.”
McDonnell, the platform committee’s chairman, said in an interview that any discussion of rape “absolutely should condemn violence in every form against women.”
“So while many of us strongly support the right to life, we also strongly disagree with these comments as representing policies that the pro-life community should embrace,” McDonnell said. The abortion plank of the platform will “affirm our view and support for the right to life” that has been part of the Republican platform for “several decades,” he said.
The Republican platform statement on abortion doesn’t make an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
“We don’t get into those details” because as long as the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion stands, “these are matters of faith and morals,” McDonnell said.
Crossroads GPS, a group that supports Republicans, is pulling its ad spending in Missouri following Akin’s comments, spokesman Nate Hodson said in a telephone interview.
The group, which former George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove helped create, has aired thousands of negative spots in the state, including an ad titled “ObamaClaire,” focusing on McCaskill’s support for the 2010 federal health-care overhaul.
Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Republican Senate candidate Heather Wilson of New Mexico urged Akin to step aside, as did National Review Online in an editorial.
Earlier today, Romney’s campaign issued a statement saying the former Massachusetts governor and his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, support abortion rights for rape victims.
“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in the statement.
While the statement was consistent with Romney’s position, it marked a departure from Ryan’s previous support for making abortion legal only when a woman’s life is at risk.
Ryan sponsored a fetal personhood bill during the last Congress that would effectively criminalize abortion without exceptions for rape victims. He also co-sponsored an act with Akin in 2011 that tried to narrow the definition of rape to curtail abortions.
Only in cases of “forcible rape,” according to the measure, would a woman be eligible to have an abortion covered under insurance.
“I’m as pro-life as a person gets,” Ryan told the Weekly Standard magazine in 2010.
Akin beat St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman in a Republican primary on Aug. 7. Republicans have produced an onslaught of negative ads tying McCaskill to Obama, whose popularity has fallen in the state.
In an e-mailed statement, McCaskill, who has trailed Akin in polls, called Akin’s comments “offensive.”
“It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape,” she said.
In the days before the primary, McCaskill and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unveiled an ad calling Akin “too conservative” for Missouri, which may have given him a boost with primary voters.
Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who is in a tight race against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, called Akin’s remarks “outrageous, inappropriate and wrong,” and urged the Missourian to step aside.
“Not only should he apologize, but I believe Representative Akin’s statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri,” Brown said in a statement on his website.
Connie Mackey, president of the Family Research Council Action, the political arm of the group that opposes abortion and gay marriage, said lawmakers should show “backbone” and defend Akin against “gotcha politics.”
“We support Todd Akin,” she told reporters at the Tampa platform deliberations. “We are not going to back down.”
Tony Perkins, president of the parent organization, said Brown “should be careful” with his condemnation of Akin because there have been several episodes in which the Massachusetts senator was “off the reservation.”
“His support among conservatives is very shallow,” Perkins said.
Former Missouri Senator Jim Talent, defeated for re-election by McCaskill in 2006 and now an adviser to Romney’s campaign, told reporters in Tampa that Akin “has got to know the situation and has got to sit down and make a personal decision.”
Talent, who is on the Republican platform committee, said he has no plans to try to replace Akin if he steps aside.